(I’m not sure what all this means. But it seemed like a good idea when I wrote it.)
For the first time in a sad number of years, I opened the email file I labeled “RebelFire Futurestuff” and read. I’ve longed to go back and further the tale of Jeremy, Cedra, Rey, and the band RebelFire. I had (and to my surprise still have) notes for a sequel and at least one more. Unusual. Plotting is my weak point and I’m not good at thinking ahead. I also had links to articles on privacy and technology, philosophical concepts, etc. — anything that might come handy in future novels.
The first piece I read in my notes was brilliant — a full scenario for a grassroots rebellion in the U.S. Wow. What thinking. Unfortunately, that wasn’t mine. That was a note I’d credited to “Cat,” an online nym of someone of whom I otherwise have no memory. It was really good, though.
The second note I came upon was this — and I’ll tell you in advance that, four years later, I had no idea I could sound so ineffably profound — and I have no farking idea what I was talking about:
Jeremy the lightmaker =
Om namah shivaya
Shiva, destroyer of illusions.
The master who sheds the light shatters the darkness.
Jeremy, you may remember if you read the book, wants nothing in life except to be a “lightmaker” for the red-hot and then suddenly disappeared band, RebelFire. But Jeremy is, in a larger sense, a person who receives light (en-light-en-ment) from experience and other people, and transmits his own amplified light to the world. Shining light in dark places. Changing within himself, then leading change.
Or so he would have done, had the story developed beyond the first book. This second concept of lightmaker wasn’t intentional. It just … was.
Jeremy is also called “Reb.” Our only intention for that (Aaron Zelman and me) was the obvious: the kid’s a fan-boy for the band and the band is about reb-ellion. But I once received the congratulations of a beloved Jewish scholar, now sadly gone, for having the cleverness to imply that Jeremy, as an inspirational leader, is also a “rebbe or reb,” something akin to (although not exactly) a rabbi, if I’ve got my Judaica right. I thanked her humbly, but felt like jerk for taking credit for something I never previously gave one butterfly-wing of thought to.
So “lightmaker” suddenly becomes profound. This kid is not only bringing en-light-en-ment, but it’s of the divine variety (or again I should say, would be had the story continued. And somehow we did all that without consciously intending to.
So there I was, writing this mystical stuff. In those notes about sequels, I mean. What on earth was I thinking? Or perhaps it might be more apt to ask what on earth I was smoking.
“Om namah shivaya” is a beautiful and hypnotic chant used in the rituals of Siddha yoga, that’s become so popular you can buy about 10 different versions on CD or via download on Amazon.com. Whether it means “Shiva, destroyer of illusions,” I have no idea and fear to check. Maybe it means “come join our cult”; I have no idea. It appears I made some connection at the time.
But where in the world did ol’ mundane me come up with a phrase like “Shiva, destroyer of illusions”? Unreal. It makes me feel like one of those girls in the movies who get possessed by things and eventually end up spewing pea soup in a 360-degree arc. Although once I get past that, I can relate to the concept of a master who shatters darkness, which is the precursor to shattering illusion.
A Clew to what the heck I was talking about comes in an appended note:
Oh. Just thought. The master who brings the light is always
punished, usually dies …
Oh. So that’s what I’m thinking. I’m wondering if Jeremy needs to die in some Christ-like fashion by the end of the series. But (tut-tut) the conventions of fiction simply do not allow such behavior in a hero. It’s always cheating when you kill off your protagonist — unless you do it in some biblical proportion and have The Great Uprising of the People follow in his death, after which Utopia thrives forever.
So clearly (or unclearly) I was thinking such profound stuff that I have no idea after the fact what I was talking about. But I was dead-ending myself, writer-wise. Down that plotted path I dare not go. Unless … well, enough of that.
In real life, though, the master who brings light is always punished in some way. Jesus wasn’t alone. You could almost stamp tragic en-light-en-ment heros out with a cookie-cutter, their fates are so often so similar. If they don’t get nailed to a tree they end up broke and starving in a garret somewhere.
(By the way, strictly an aside. My new home — crossing all fingers and toes that it does become my home — has a garret. An official arty type with the long, low-ceilinged room and the slanted walls. And of course the single dormer window looking out upon the street life — such as it is in the middle of nowhere — so the poor, tubercular starving writer can compose his epic opus and become a billion-selling author … just after he’s found frozen to death because his cruel Victorian landlord turned off the heat and he couldn’t even get a bit of coal for the brazier because he’d spent all his money on absinthe-drinking companions and voluptuous nightclub entertainers and of course paints, which he sometimes ate in moments of desperation. When he wasn’t too busy cutting his ear off. Yes, it has one of those garrets, Even though it’s not quite the same in a town of a few hundred blue-collar families. Definitely not Paris.)
Anyhow, as a general rule, life doesn’t go well for lightbringers. And you wonder why anyone wants to be one. They give us so much. But generally they gain nothing they, themselves can ever feel or measure. And it’s a complete crap-shoot. You could die for some hopeless cause and be revered for centuries as a shining hero of your country or your craft — but as my friend Debra habitually points out, you wouldn’t be around to know or care. Or you could suffer for decades, then vindication would come so late in life that by then you’d have become cynical about your craft or your country. More likely, you could be utterly forgotten or, worse, remembered only as some damn crank.
Could you write a book or a movie about a guy who spent his whole life failing — and then also failed at becoming a fondly remembered hero? Kafka could. Kafka could write about a man waking up one day as a giant cockroach. But outside of college lit classes most people wouldn’t want to read it.
What kind of person wants to live it?
One with supreme confidence, I suppose. One who believes — and never doubts! — that his ideas are The Ones, no matter if the entire rest of the world is against him.
But that kind of person … well, he’d better die or be shunted firmly aside before he gains power or influence. Because billions of people have suffered the tender mercies of men like that.
I started with fiction. But of course this question isn’t really fictional.
Is a person who sees himself as bringing the light ever actually bringing it? Or is the brightest light shone as a matter of course along the way by humbler people? Brilliant people, sometimes. But those who don’t have the ego to “change the world”? Those who, when the die, may feel they’ve accomplished nothing and who rue their own ineffectiveness?
I’ve often thought that an apt test of the credibility of a philosopher should be this: You, Mr. or Ms Philosopher, gather a bunch of people who agree with you, and you all go off and live your philosophy for five years. If, at the end of that time, you still think you had it right, up there in your ivory tower, then good. We’ll start to take you seriously. Until then … nope. You and your pals in academia have a good time playing mind games. But we’ll get back to you later.
The same should go for en-light-en-ment leaders. You get there and test your Utopia out, please. If we like it, we’ll volunteer to join. But don’t experiment on us, okay?
Um, thanks for getting all the way to the end of this ramble. As I say, I don’t know exactly what I’m getting at. But the subject of RebelFire came up several times lately. One person said he read it again this month, expecting it not to have held up. But he liked it. Another woman told me it’s one of her teenage son’s favorite books. I really would have loved to see where Jeremy’s life went after the book ended. And it really is all about groping toward the light — and hoping the light you perceive isn’t either an oncoming train or a false lighthouse beacon set out by wreckers.